The first Big Game of The Week for the 2014 season took Chris Egan and the high school sports coverage team to Gig Harbor, where cross-town rivals Gig Harbor and Peninsula played the annual Fish Bowl game. Gig Harbor edged Peninsula in comeback fashion, 30-29.
Had you left the packed Roy Anderson Field at the half, hearing that the Tides won the game would be a surprise. Despite leading 10-6 at the end of the first quarter, the first 24 minutes of the game really belonged to the Seahawks – by half, running back Major Ali had 111 rushing yards on 14 touches and two touchdowns.
Peninsula led 27-10 going into halftime and the Tides defense didn’t seem to have an answer for Ali.
Meanwhile on the offensive side of the ball, Gig Harbor quarterback Davis Alexander made his first start and struggled to find much of a rhythm early. He only completed two of his six passes in the first half and one of them was intercepted.
The difference, though, was what Alexander was able to do on the ground. He rushed for 57 total yards and scored a third quarter touchdown to contribute to the Tide comeback.
“My confidence in him never wavers,” Gig Harbor head coach Aaron Chantler said of Alexander. “He was a little jittery [in the first half] – probably will never admit that – but he settled down for sure, [and] ran the offense very well in the second half.”
Last year, Gig Harbor came from behind to win the Fish Bowl, too. That victory came with 2014 graduate Conor Scanlan behind center for the Tides, who threw three touchdown passes in the game. Alexander plays a different style, as he threw for just 96 yards (eight-for-17).
Like the 2013 Fish Bowl, this year’s game also came down to Peninsula converting a fourth down deep in Tide territory. Peninsula quarterback Robert Kvinsland threw an incomplete pass on fourth and six from the Gig Harbor 25 with just seconds left on the clock.
While the 2013 and 2014 Fish Bowl games had some similarities, Chantler said they don’t even compare.
“This one’s better,” he said. “Last year was more back and forth… but [this year], we were down 17 at halftime. That’s tough for any team to come back from.”
The only points the Tides gave up in the second half were on a safety in the third quarter. The 180 on defense was partially a product of understanding what Ali and Peninsula wanted to do.
“We challenged them at halftime and said ‘hey, this is what they’re running, you know it’s coming. You just got to do your job.’ And it finally donned on them,” Chantler said.
Ali finished the game with 21 rushes for 141 yards with most of those coming in the first half.
Aside from the defense stepping up, Gig Harbor running back Adrian Valona also played a big part in the comeback. He scored on a 59-yard carry in the first half, but also added the final touchdown of the game from 21 yards out with just over five minutes left.
In talking with him after the game, Valona conveyed the feeling that, in some ways, beating Peninsula is almost like winning a championship.
“To come back from so far down to win, it’s insane,” he said. “All the hard work we put in, all the two-a-days. To come out here and win this, it’s amazing.”
Valona finished the night with 168 rushing yards on 12 carries.
Some 5,000 people were estimated to be in attendance, and the stands on both sides were overflowing into the standing areas bordering the field.
Make sure to vote for next week’s Big Game – we only hope that it can match the excitement and pageantry of the first week.
Most in attendance probably share the sentiment of Chantler: “One of the best high school football games I’ve been a part of.”